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While Hyundai's mid-size Sonata and compact Elantra sedans are pretty widely recognized as smart, popular choices (and best-sellers), the same hasn't been entirely true for the Hyundai Azera. We never could warm up to the former Azera. While it “appeals to sedan shoppers on as budget who value comfort and interior space above all else,” we said, and Hyundai clearly put more effort into the tactility of the controls, and into the interior details, it fell short in a number of ways. Among them: a bouncy ride, bland styling, mid-pack safety, and bland styling.
But this year, Hyundai has finally given its larger sedan the right mix: The 2012 Azera gets a standout design inside and out, improved performance, and fully updated connectivity. And yes, it still offers a lot of features for the money.
The 2012 Hyundai Azera has a cohesive, dynamic design—and a deeper level of detail—than most other large sedans. Hyundai has positioned the 2012 Azera toward 'design-minded consumers,' and based on what we see outside and in, the Azera definitely hits an aesthetic high water mark. Like many of Hyundai's recent models, designers looked to build on the 'fluidic sculpture' theme, but there's been a lot of attention paid to the details, with nicely sculpted LED taillamps, side mirrors with build-in turn-signal indicators, and HID xenon headlamps. Inside, it's a direct interpretation, in a lot of ways, of the interior design we've seen developed in the Elantra and Sonata, with a Y-shaped center stack featuring a screen top and center, flanked by vents, with audio controls beneath that and climate controls just below. Throughout the instrument panel, and the rest of the interior, the Azera has a very distinctive two-tier layout, with some combinations pairing a lighter-tone lower tier and darker upper tier that matches the upholstery.
The Azera is confidence-inspiring, with plenty of performance for style- and comfort-minded shoppers. The 3.3-liter 'Lambda' V-6 makes 293 horsepower, as well as 255 pound feet—on regular gasoline—and has a roller timing chain for durability and lower maintenance cost. It's a high-revver—with a higher specific output than other engines in this class—and makes its peak power at 6,400 rpm, just short of redline; but it also feels considerably more torquey at lower rpm compared to Hyundai's past V-6 efforts. Altogether, it's smooth and responsive, thanks in part to the six-speed automatic transmission, which includes a Shiftronic manual mode. The transmission has a wide range of gear ratios to allow quick takeoffs, strong passing ability, and relaxed cruising.
The electric power steering system in the Azera felt much better-tuned than that of the Sonata, or other recent Hyundai front-wheel drive products. It has a good sense of center, with weighting that builds predictably, and should be everything that comfort-oriented buyers expect. There's a MacPherson strut-type system, and a multi-link setup in back, but Sachs amplitude-selective campers not only help filter out minor bumps without adding floatiness.
Whether you're carrying family or business colleagues, the Azera has the seating space, smooth ride, and luxury-car ambiance to keep everyone comfortable. The 2012 Azera isn't just a large sedan; in terms of equipment, and also in terms of seating, ride, and interior appointments, it's a luxury car. Roughly the same length and width as the Acura TL, or about three inches longer than the Maxima, or quite a bit shorter than the Taurus or LaCrosse on the outside, the story is quite different looking inside: The Azera has more interior volume than any of those other models, as well as more cargo space than all but the Taurus.
Front seats are adjustable to a wide range of sizes, and we like how Hyundai has assembled the power-seat controls, Mercedes-Benz style, along the upper door trim. Tech Package models, in addition to heated seats, include heated-and-cooled ventilated functions. In back, there's lots of sprawl-out legroom, as well as just enough headroom for adults—just enough, thanks to two carved-out headliner recesses. Although the middle position isn't quite as spacious, and the roofline makes getting in and out more challenging than we anticipated.
In new IIHS tests, the 2012 Azera completely swept the ratings matrix, with top 'good' scores in all the subcategories of frontal and side-impact testing. and it's been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The 2012 model borrows some building blocks from the acclaimed Sonata mid-size sedan, and comes with nine standard airbags—including a driver's knee airbag and separate rear side-impact bags. Additionally, a rearview camera system is standard on all models.
For 2012, the Azera starts a whopping $6,605 above the base 2011 Azera GLS. But, it turns out, the equipment list of the 2012 Azera is comparable to—if not better than—that of the 2011 Azera Limited, which started about $2,000 less than the 2012 Azera (which costs $32,875, including destination). So there's definitely a price hike; it's just not a serious as some early reports let it on to be—and Hyundai is likely going to boost its residual values by getting rid of the base model. That said, equipment on the 2012 Azera is luxury-car impressive, with a nav system and backup camera standard, along with push-button start, proximity-key entry, power front seats, heated side mirrors, and heated front and rear seats—plus HD Radio, 450-watt audio, and all the connectivity you need. Add the Technology Package (for a bottom line of $36,875), and you add HID headlamps, larger 19-inch wheels, a big panoramic sunroof, a power rear sunshade, manual rear side sunshades, ventilated front seats, 550-watt Infinity premium Logic 7 sound with subwoofer, power steering-wheel adjustment, interior ambient lighting, and a keyfob-integrated memory system for settings.